Humans, it seems, have always searched for a meaning to life. Even pre-history provides evidence that man had given supernatural power to events over which he had no control. How they have expressed these beliefs often seems bizarre to the modern seeker, who has more than enough free time to search and seek out spiritual dimensions not previously dreamed of. Some assume that the accumulation of new knowledge precludes a need to look outside of the self for cosmic answers.
Modern societies also have the advantage that every waking hour is not spent hunting for food or simple survival from the elements or the danger of being sold into slavery, beaten to death in a rival troops ' raid, or eaten by a wild animal. Our ancestors did somehow manage to recognize a tribal need for spiritual certainty or for universal answers that suit situations like birth, life, death, illness, tradition, aging, leadership, coupling and marriage, even virginity had a purpose and became ritualized.
A "special" guide or shamman was appointed or inherited the role of traditions keeper. Life was thus governed by rules that gave fearsome things in the environment a role in keeping peace and order. In this simlple, clearly defined universe, storms resulted from breaking the rules. Other signs pointed to a great power that demanded sacrafice of both animal and human.
Periods of peace and plenty offer time to ponder cosmic questions. The hungry wish to be fed first when times aren't so good. Once basic needs are met, timeless questions intrude and force attention to spiritual matters. There are those who have little recognition that their restlessness is brought about by yearnings to know the spiritual side of self.
Borrowing from the Greeks, whom they admired greatly, the Roman people paid tribute to many Gods and were highly superstitious. They read signs into many things and governed their lives in the pagan tradition. As Christianity flowered, some former persecutors became Christians themselves. A Roman Caesar ended the persecution of Christians by becoming one. He banned the persecution of Christians in the arenas.
A considerable number of modern leaders place faith in astrology to guide them in decision making. Ronald Reagan famously sought out an astrologer to augment his advisors. His principal advisor, his wife used astrology to decide presidential travel, among other things. Adolf Hitler believed his life was divinely moved by the stars. Apparently, there was a mixup and he lost everything. General patton was a fearless warrior who "knew" he was invulnerable to an enemy bullet. Sadly, his stars did not predict his death from a motorcar accident shortly after the war ended.
The Jews of antiquity formalized God and wrote and preserved beautifully a history for people who followed after them. many believe this great book to be inspired by God. Ironically, modern Israel is presently a secular society.
Societies that allow religion to rule all aspects of their lives have been around in one form or another for a very long time. Some organized societies are secular by choice. They believe that religion is best kept out of the everyday business of government. The founding fathers in the US wished to avoid church iterference with a law separating church from state. Christ himself said to "grant to Caesar that which is his
Western oples experimented with government by and through the church with dismal results. Power still corrupts, even with safeguards in place, just as it did when churchmen used power in evil ways to control the people.
The Irish are a modern example of a country that got out from under the authority of the Church. the result has been a boom for the economy, for the arts, and for higher education. In fairness, other factors have played a major role in holding Ireland back, including a rigid class system, civil war and the fight for independence. The writer is not fully apprised of the entire Irish political situation, but the Church until recently played a major role in every Catholic's life.
Today in North American a revolution, or reformation is taking place among Protestants and Catholics.* A Luthern, for example is less likely to retain his faith in his religion but turn his allegiance to another Protestant Church that suits him. Protestants are no longer the majority religion.
Catholics are losing their traditional base in America, mosty white, middle-class, but gaining numbers due to the large number of immigrants entering the country, by whatever means.
Not surprisenly, large numbers now report allegiance to no religion exceot that they identify with spiritualism, athieism, or the humanist tradition.
The past 125 years are truly remarkable in world history. Changes have occured so rapidly that the mind barely has time to register the change before a new one is in the making. Some change has been positive for all but when we look to traditional institutions for guidance they are as bewildered as those .seeking answers.
As an institution, the church has turned away from their oppressed children at a time when they need help the most. Instead of reaching out to woman, gay persons, and other minority and unpopular or misunderstood groups, they speak of change and reform but ,in reality ,rush to the barricades. Some blame the church scandals on an imposter pope who cast evil among the clergy. This preposterous allegation that casts doubt on a beloved pope is despicable and unworthy. The priest in the writer's parish that chose to take the path of evil did so with free will, thinking only of his own carnal desires. When confronted, he at first denied it happened then blamed the victims. There were secondary victims no one considers but for whom the pain of betrayal will never go away.
The truth is ,evil has always been hiding out in the church. It isn't a new invention nor will it be eradicated through coverup, denial, and blaming. Protestants' are not crowing at the misfortune of the Catholic disclosures of wrong doing. (Which they only reluctantly owned up to once confronted). They have their own scandals that brought discredit upon them. Had the Catholic Church been more open instead of hiding criminal and evil priests, much pain could have been softened for the victims, and further abuse of new victims avoided.
The church will survive, in one form or another. Religions will continue and grow. Truth seekers will try to find answers within their church, and failing there, will set off on new journeys' of discovery, seeking to find out for themselves the age old questions that taunt and compell us to find out who we are and where we have come from.
* See: Los Angeles Times, tuesday, February 26, 2008